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State ag secretary visits Valley

April 11, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL
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Staff Writer

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons was in the Imperial Valley on Wednesday to meet with local farmers and tour the Brawley Beef plant.

Lyons was on his way to the AgriBaja exposition today in Mexicali but wanted to talk about the state's "Buy California" program, which promotes California-grown agricultural products.

Lyons, who managed a ranch in Modesto for more than 20 years, said he was impressed with the way business and community leaders worked together to bring the Brawley Beef plant to the county.

He said he was struck by the plant's cutting-edge technology, commitment to food safety, cleanliness and quality.

The same quality is the focus of the state's "Buy California" program.

Lyons said preliminary studies show people will buy produce if they know it is from California, even if it is a little more expensive than other produce, because they know its grown to a higher standard of safety.

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Last August local farmers called for a quarantine on cantaloupes imported from Mexico because of chronic problems with food safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a food safety warning in May 2001 on cantaloupes from Mexico after two people died and others became sick from salmonella. Last year's outbreak was the latest in a decade of documented problems with Mexican cantaloupe imports.

The state program will make about $79 million in state and federal grant money available for marketing, agricultural research and pest management and specialty crop promotion.

Almost every crop grown in the county is a specialty crop, Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Stephen Birdsall said.

Lyons said local farmers would probably benefit most from the state's specialty crop grant program, a $7 million program in which farmers can apply for grants to raise specialty crops.

Applications for the specialty crop block grant are available on the Web at www.cdfa.ca.gov/cdfa/scbg/

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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